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October 17, 2011

Playoff Prospectus

Game Six: World Series Bound

by R.J. Anderson

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Game Six of the American League Championship Series provided an anticlimactic ending to an otherwise entertaining series.

For the second time in the series, the starting pitcher match-up featured the wild pairing of Max Scherzer and Derek Holland. Just like in their previous meeting in Game Two, one failed to record nine outs before exiting. Early on, Holland looked to have the better grip on the strike zone, but his fastball command fostered worse results. Holland erased a leadoff single with a timely double play, just in time to face Miguel Cabrera with the bases empty and two outs. Something I brought up in my Game Two recap is questioning why Holland seemed curveball-adverse early in counts. He looked more open-minded in Game Six, starting off three of the first six batters he encountered with first-pitch curves and four of 19 overall.

Holland buried a first-pitch curve to Cabrera and the slugger fished for it. With an early advantage in the count, Holland began tossing fastballs Cabrera’s way, and wound up in a 1-2 count. After firing two more fastballs only to see Cabrera foul them off, Holland went to the well once more and left a 96-mph offering up and away. Cabrera connected and the ball sailed over the right field wall, giving the Tigers an early 1-0 lead. Flash forward to Jhonny Peralta’s at-bat in the second inning, and a similar pattern emerged. Holland got ahead with a first-pitch curve (located for a strike) then flung fastballs until Peralta got a hold of one for another opposite-field home run. Just like that, 2-0 Tigers in a game they had to win. But the optimism in Detroit wouldn’t last long.

Scherzer looked wild from the get-go, running a 3-0 count on the leadoff batter, Ian Kinsler, before getting him to hit a harmless pop-up on a 3-1 pitch. Scherzer would throw an equal amount of strikes and balls in the first, two more strikes than balls in the second, and four more balls than strikes in his part of the third inning. After retiring Kinsler again in the third, Scherzer issued a four-pitch walk to Andrus, and the Rangers took control from there. Here is the ensuing play-by-play over the remainder of the third inning:

Josh Hamilton singled

Michael Young doubled—Andrus, Hamilton scored

Adrian Beltre singled—Young scored

Mike Napoli walked

Nelson Cruz walked

Scherzer replaced by Daniel Schlereth

David Murphy singled—Beltre, Napoli scored

Schlereth replaced by Rick Porcello

Craig Gentry (pinch-hitting for Endy Chavez) reached on a fielder’s choice

Ian Kinsler singled—Cruz, Murphy scored

Andrus reached base on fielder’s choice

Hamilton intentionally walked

Young doubled—Kinsler, Andrus scored

Porcello replaced by Ryan Perry

Beltre flew out

That would be 14 plate appearances, six hits, four walks, and nine runs charged to four Tigers pitchers. Credit Jim Leyland for having the quick hook, as he pulled Scherzer in order to play the match-up game with Murphy and then inserted Porcello to face Gentry, who came in as a pinch-hitter for the lefty Chavez. Leyland tried making the most of what he had available, and while you can argue that perhaps he should have opted to insert Joaquin Benoit or Jose Valverde at this point in the game, the pragmatist in the crowd will be more likely to point the finger at his inserted pitchers’ inability to execute.

With the game in full boat race mode, Holland’s leash tightened and Washington made the move to insert Scott Feldman after Austin Jackson cranked a two-run homer, cutting the lead to five. Scott Feldman entered, recorded an out, and then gave way to Alexi Ogando. After two innings of Ogando, Washington flexed his bullpen’s muscles by using Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz an inning apiece, although the game was even more out of hand by those points, with the final score resting at 15-5.

The two major takeaway points from this series for the Rangers are: 1) the bullpen and lineup can make up for the lacking rotation; and 2) the offense can score without home runs. Only C.J. Wilson in Game Five lasted at least six innings (and he gave up six runs in the process), and only Wilson (in a rain-delayed Game One) and Matt Harrison (in Game Four) exited without allowing more than two runs. Otherwise, the bullpen—namely Feldman and Ogando, who combined for 13 1/3 innings pitched and a 0.68 earned run average in the series—had to enter early and often. As for the offense, only Nelson Cruz had homered until Young hit one of his own in the seventh inning of Game Six. Cruz would add another, giving him six in the ALCS and keeping him ahead of Cabrera for the most impressive offensive performance in the series.

With Game Six of the National League Championship Series scheduled for Sunday, the Rangers will have at least one day of extra rest over their World Series opponent. Don’t be surprised if the Rangers have a World Series banner to hang with their second pennant next home opener, as it would be hard to make the case that either NL team is superior.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Ian Kinsler

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